Oxford in the Civil War: Battle for a Vanquished Land
By Stephen Enzweiler
(May 2011 Civil War News - Web Exclusive)
Illustrated, photos, maps, bibliography, index, 128 pp., 2010, The History Press, www.historypress.net, $19.99 softcover.
Local histories of communities during the Civil War are becoming more popular as the sesquicentennial arrives and interest about the wartime experiences in small towns across the country increases.
Oxford, Miss., best known as the home of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), provided hundreds of men for the Confederate cause in 1861, but the community’s wartime experience did not end there.
Stephen Enzweiler examines the path to secession that Oxford and Lafayette County took before the outbreak of hostilities and follows the course of the war from the eyes of local residents.
These residents included Jacob Thompson, Secretary of the Interior under President James Buchanan, and Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and postwar associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Oxford was unique in Mississippi because many of its leading citizens were not only wealthy planters but were also associated with the University of Mississippi.
With the secession of Mississippi, the town emptied of students and other young men, and the university was forced to close. Many Northern-born faculty members departed immediately while their Southern counterparts prepared for war.
A company of infantry called the University Grays (Co. A of the 11th Mississippi) formed on the campus before Ole Miss was closed and served in the Eastern Theater throughout the war as part of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Oxford first experienced the horrors of war immediately after the Battle of Shiloh when the entire university campus was turned into a hospital. Townspeople struggled to help care for the wounded soldiers and created a cemetery on the south side of the campus for the many who did not recover. As Union forces pushed farther south, refugees swamped Oxford.
Forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant took the city on Dec. 2, 1862, with some limited resistance from Confederate units.
Widespread looting occurred over the next several days, but the worst event that struck the city during the war was a fire set in 1864 by Federal troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson Smith. With this final destruction, Oxford was of no use to either army and passed the rest of the war unmolested.
Events that occurred in Oxford are important, but the experience of local units like the University Grays and others in the Eastern Theater completes the story. The Grays’ war experience ended during Pickett’s Charge on the third day at Gettysburg, where they suffered appalling 100 percent casualties.
This work is well written and covers all aspects of life in the city before and during the war. Its only weakness is the absence of footnotes or endnotes. While a bibliography is included, the absence of notes makes it hard for the reader to determine which sources are being used.
Overall, this highly recommended book is a strong example of a local history and a community’s experience in the war. More works about the impact of the war on local communities are needed as the sesquicentennial approaches and readers wish to learn more about their hometowns during the conflict. The History Press is doing an excellent job addressing this need.
Reviewer: David Sesser
A former museum curator, David Sesser is Special Collections Curator and E-Resources Coordinator at the Huie Library, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Ark.